8:37 Rebirth is a tightly wound thriller about the lifelong legacy of a single tragic moment. Twenty-five years ago, Jared (Glen Gould) shot and killed the father of Sergei (Pasha Ebrahimi) during an attempted convenience store robbery. Jared was arrested and sentenced to prison while Sergei made the best of a life torn asunder. He married well (to Nora, played by Amy Trefry) and studied hard enough to become a mathematics professor at a well-regarded university. Each night, Sergei teaches his son math, donning a cape and making it fun. From the outside, Sergei is a success story, but each night he goes to bed secure in the knowledge that Jared is behind bars, that he is suffering the way Sergei has suffered.
For his part, Jared’s time in prison was defined by good behavior. He studied, he painted, he never once sought parole. In his mind, redemption isn’t even a fantasy. He’d never deserve it. Still, at the end of his sentence, Jared finds himself a free man. He moves into an apartment owned by a curmudgeonly landlord (Daniel Lillford) and starts painting to re-acclimate to the free world. It’s a small and dignified life. There is no part of him that wants to speak to Sergei again. There’s no part of him that feels forgivable.
Unfortunately, one of the standard practices when it comes to this type of crime is that the victim’s family is notified when the perpetrator is released. Although Jared had no interest in contacting Sergei, the government did so anyway. The form letter sends Sergei into a spiral of regret, rage and paranoia that puts both men on a collision course with destiny.
Director Juanita Peters does a solid job building up both Jared and Sergei into sympathetic characters even before flashbacks reveal the difficult circumstances surrounding the crime that forever linked them. Gould and Trefry are particularly great at conveying their subtle shifts in behavior over time, as chance encounters drive one of them to the brink of sanity. The slow-burn atmosphere helps build the story grow naturally.
There’s never a moment where their choices feel led by plot rather than character, which is also a credit to screenwriters Joseph LeClair and Hank White. Also to their credit: The film never tries to settle on an easy message despite teeing up tragic choices for both its leads. The ending might frustrate audiences, but it works better than something saccharine or contrived.
My primary critique is the character of John (Mark A. Owen), Sergei’s best friend and confidant. He’s protective of his friend and has personal problems that lead to aggressive outbursts, but his subplot never quite clicked with me.
The significance of the 8:37 title is that Jared’s crime occurred at 8:37 p.m. — an insignificant time by any other measure but one that nonetheless defined both their lives. Although pretty straightforward, 8:37 Rebirth is a satisfying and engaging thriller that makes good use out of the concept of two men connected by unthinkable tragedy, descending into obsession.